Over the last week or two, I’ve read several online articles from pastors that I esteem about the new movie Heaven is for Real. Each one seemed to be a warning of some sort about the movie and advising against seeing it.
I had read the book after its release a few years ago because a number of my daughter’s friends were reading it and she wanted to read it. I figured it was probably fairly benign — if it wasn’t accurate, it probably wasn’t harmful — but I did want to read it myself. It happened to be around the time of the death of a close friend of ours when I was also reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn and thinking about heaven more.
While I realized the book was written quite simply and might not be true (though I found myself wanting to believe that a “pastor” is telling the truth, but also realizing that a not-quite 4 year old can be into make believe and perhaps there could be many other explanations), the book, combined with Randy Alcorn’s book which is far more biblical, did make me think bigger thoughts of heaven and wonder more about heaven in a way I had not before.
However, I will tell you this. Before I ever read it, I knew heaven is for real because I have God’s Word, the Bible. I knew without a doubt where my friend Jeff was because he had trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation from his sins, had accepted God’s free gift of grace, and had followed Jesus. I also knew how we have access to heaven – through faith in Jesus Christ, His death on the cross and resurrection, not because of any works that we can do.
If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been studying Galatians which gives us the true gospel of God, the gospel of grace. There is no ambivalence about its truth. We see the apostle Paul writing to the Galatians because they are turning away from the gospel as others are trying to pervert it. Paul is bold to speak the truth because he recognizes his own salvation and apostleship and this gospel are all from God, not man, and Paul is therefore God’s “bondservant,” living to please God, not man.
In Galatians, we see Paul (formerly “Saul”) recount the story of his life and dramatic conversion. The one who had persecuted the Christians would become the one persecuted. This gospel truth was worth living and dying for, worth being bold to speak about and to warn against false gospels, gospels that add or take away from the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was with all of these things in my mind as I considered seeing the movie Heaven is for Real. Because my daughter had the day off school yesterday, she wanted to do something fun together and suggested the movie. As before with the book, I didn’t expect it would be harmful — if this child’s account was not true, it might be encouraging in some way.
However, whatever truth the book may have held, it all seemed lost in this movie. I realize we can’t expect a movie to necessarily give a clear gospel presentation, but if you are going to tell about heaven, shouldn’t you tell the true way to get there? The fact that the movie gave another gospel is what was so distressing to me.
Church was about hearing a homily or some good thoughts from the pastor whose faith was unsure and uncertain. The pastor was shaken by the thought that his son might have gone to heaven as though the thought of heaven prior to that wasn’t even real to him! We see him reassuring a woman that her older son who had died would be in heaven because of love. Really? Was Jesus’ death on the cross unnecessary? Are we left wondering how we can get to heaven with no assurance more than love?
Toward the end of the movie, the church service becomes all about the story of the boy going to heaven. What is church? What is true worship of Jesus Christ? This movie did not give you glimpses of that. A holy God, a sinful people, a Savior – Jesus, Son of God, fully God, fully man – coming to die for our sins, His death and resurrection that we just celebrated this weekend. Salvation through faith in Jesus, and true worship of Him! All of it missing from this!
Suddenly, this all seemed completely unbelievable. I wanted to stand to my feet at the end of the movie and tell everyone not to believe it! There is a way to heaven, and it is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We have the living Word of God to show us the way. We don’t need a young boy’s unreliable word from a near death (not even death) experience. It could nonetheless be encouraging perhaps if it could be confirmed as truth, but this movie does not match God’s Word, which is reliable and true.
Before seeing the movie, I wanted to think it would at least be an encouraging, uplifting kind of thing, if nothing else. But it wasn’t. Jesus was not exalted in this movie. As our pastor says in his book No Other Gospel, “God has designed things to exalt his Son at the cross. Any gospel that doesn’t center on the cross of Jesus Christ is not truly God-centered.” We didn’t see Christ exalted. How can heaven be considered without Christ?
Praise God this morning for pastors who preach the Bible and the true gospel of God, for churches that are gospel-centered and Christ-centered, for pastors willing to warn us and direct us by the Word of God! I left the movie realizing with sadness how many churches are lacking in this, giving warm thoughts, feel good thoughts, things humans might want to hear, but not teaching the Word. I was also sad thinking how easily people are led astray and turn aside to other things that sound good or to things that “tickle the ears.”
Millions of copies of this book sold. People eating it up. But what of the Word of God? Let that inform us, teach us, be the thing we measure other things against. Study it, know it, believe it. It is reliable and true. By faith in Jesus, through His finished work on the cross, His death and resurrection, we have life, both now and eternally. That’s a message that should excite us, bring us to our knees in worship, and one we want to share with others.